by Jerry ElengicalMay 28, 2021
Presenting an engaging multimedia experience overflowing with an abundance of innovative solutions for sustainable living, the India Pavilion at the London Design Biennale 2021 opened at Somerset House on June 1, alongside the multitude of other installation spaces from nations across the globe. Titled 'Small is Beautiful: A billion Ideas,' the pavilion has been curated under the stewardship of Indian architect Nisha Mathew Ghosh. It brings together artists, craftspersons, entrepreneurs, architects, designers, researchers, and even musicians to showcase solutions to the challenges of sustainability, conservation, pollution, and resource management in contemporary India.
“The complexities of the ecological crisis that India and the world are facing, resonate across all aspects of our lives,” says Ghosh, the curator for India Pavilion, in an official statement. She adds, “The greatest hope for unpacking these difficult and urgent issues lies in cross-disciplinary thinking about urban planning, design practices and a need to interrogate the governance and policies surrounding the use of brownfields and natural resources”.
The pavilion's primary aim has been portrayed as "heralding new-age design thinking to address the challenges caused by ecological challenges and the climate crisis." Focused on an interactive digital wall that offers a variable visitor experience marrying art, music, technology, and design, the India Pavilion puts forth inventive, eco-friendly solutions to modern problems across the five domains of air, water, forest, earth, and energy.
Among its roster of engaging narratives from all across India, the installation includes groundbreaking initiatives such as Ghosh's own SustaInd Project. This initiative recycles discarded fabrics in a circular strategy to craft home textiles for her sustainable textile maker studio ELEATZ. In tackling the widespread problem of improper waste management within the fashion industry, the project creates curtains, dhurries, rugs, and tapestries with uniquely handcrafted designs out of fabric scraps collected from textile and clothing stores.
Other revolutionary ideas include Carbon Craft Design - a design and material innovation company headed by architect Tejas Sidnal, which collects, treats, and upcycles carbon waste from pyrolysis factories and other sources into monochromatic tiles. The tiles feature stunning geometric patterns influenced by traditional handcrafting and stencil-making processes. In a similar vein, confronting the issue of air pollution from agricultural stubble burning, entrepreneur Sunam Taran's 7 Sister Crafts initiative manufactures single-use drinking straws from wheat stubble waste. The project furnishes an alternative to disposable plastic straws that are often strewn all across city streets.
Also featured as part of the installation is ‘Mitticool’ - a clay-based refrigeration system developed by Mansukhbai Prajapati, that draws on traditional clay pottery. Additionally, Malai Biomaterials Design, co-founded by Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith Chempodil, produces vegan leather bags and wallets out of bacteria cellulose derived from coconut water, as a responsible alternative to the cruelty inflicted upon animals by the conventional leather industry.
Illuminating the vital role of mangroves in protecting coastal ecosystems against floods, erosion, and climate change, 'Nested Roots' is a conceptual proposal by Drawing Hands Studio that utilises bamboo and coir-wrapped structures in porous concrete to compensate for the damage to aquatic and arboreal life caused by the depletion of precious mangrove ecosystems. Alternatively, 'Bamboo Toilets' is an initiative by Tata Trusts alongside SHiFt (Studio for Habitat Futures), that attempts to provide basic sanitation facilities for communities in rural areas through sustainable, modular construction systems and waterless waste management methods requiring minimum maintenance.
As part of the large-scale architectural and urban design interventions included in the pavilion's lineup of narratives, the Bamboo Research and Training Centre, located in a reserve forest of Chandrapur, Maharashtra, also by SHiFt, was originally imagined as one of Asia's largest training centres built in locally sourced bamboo. It is expected to train over 1,000 alumni annually in bamboo structures, furniture, small products, crafts, and associated technologies. Alongside this, the Maharashtra Nature Park proposal in Mumbai merges elements of urban design, architecture, landscape, and restoration into a transformative intervention that aims to redevelop and rejuvenate urban forests and parks near the Mithi and Vakola Rivers. The project is a collaborative effort between Sameep Padora & Associates, Design Cell, and Ratan J. Batliboi Consultants.
Raising awareness of the vital role played by plant pollinators in maintaining ecological balances, 'The People Pollinator Design' by Vidisha Barwal, proposes a framework for landscape-based interventions in urban areas to safeguard these crucial contributors to our natural ecosystems. Conversely, 'Landscape In-Transit,' by Nitya Patel, Aman Srihdharani, and Lopamudra Baruah presents a narrative undercut by dark optimism. Featuring an unnerving future vision of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat repurposed as a conservatory and regeneration station, it serves as a glaring reminder of the biodiversity lost to massive infrastructure development projects all over the country.
Aside from the aforementioned projects, the India Pavilion has a roster that boasts of 200 unique narratives from all across the subcontinent, with an appeal to recognise the inimitable wealth and diversity of interconnected, resonating ideas passed down over centuries among citizens, serving as indispensable facets of India's incredibly varied heritage. Honouring grassroots initiatives from the past, the pavilion pays tribute to the power of community-based movements in alleviating the current issues put forth by India's unhinged, breakneck push towards urbanisation and development.